Why Halloween makes us scream The CN Tower's EdgeWalk in Toronto, seen in this photo, is one of the many experiences Margee Kerr features in her book "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear." (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/ Darren Calabrese/Scarehouse )
Why Halloween makes us scream
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Margee Kerr says she has the best job in the world. She studies fear for a living and loves to scare herself as part of her research.
 
Kerr is a sociologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and just in time for Halloween, she's written a book called "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear."
 
The book documents Kerr's adventures around the world experiencing extreme attractions, ranging from the tallest roller coasters in Japan to the CN Tower's EdgeWalk in Toronto, where participants are tethered to the skyscraper for an outdoor walk 116 stories off the ground.
 
Kerr also works at an attraction in Pittsburgh called ScareHouse. She analyzes customer responses to help keep the fright levels just right.
 
"We're trying to scare people in a way that's going to make them feel good," she said.
 
Kerr is interested in the notion that society usually regards "fear as a negative force. But there's another side to fear that's fun and fulfilling."  That's the sweet spot sought by recreational activities, whether skydiving, zip lining, roller coasters or so-called haunted houses.
 
"When we know we're not really in any physical danger, we can enjoy the endorphins and the dopamine. That response is similar to being really excited and happy," she said.
 
Her quest for the "Scream" book took her on "many, many adventures across the world, doing as many scary and thrilling things as I could. I look at it from the cultural perspective, the physiological perspective and the psychological perspective. Why do we engage with this type of material? Part of it is the natural high we get from activating the flight-or-fight response in a safe environment."
 
Kerr says the trick is to figure out what types of situations "trigger our flight or fight response. What are people afraid of, what's going to tap into the fear?"
 
For example, "we know from science that seeing the whites of people's eyes will activate the amygdala."  That is the emotional processing center of our brain. That intense response to another being's eyes explains why scary attractions often have "dolls with big eyes or animatronics with wide-open eyes." Startling sounds, fast-moving props and other sudden visual effects also trigger instinctive responses, upping the fear factor without putting people in real danger.
 
She added that part of the draw for an extreme adventure or attraction is that "you are testing your own resilience. When you come out the other side of a scary movie or haunted house, you have accomplished something. You've tested your will. Even though we know nothing will hurt us, the self-esteem boost is real."
 
As for her own responses, she found the CN Tower EdgeWalk to be "way more terrifying than I thought it would be." Skydiving, on the other hand, was pure pleasure for Kerr.
 
Kerr says her research can have implications beyond theme parks and haunted houses. It can help people understand how to tolerate stress.
 
"We're trying to find the best ways to teach people how to experience their emotions in ways that are healthy and not debilitating," she said. "When people lean into the experience and test themselves in an environment that is safe, they come to learn they can handle stress. And they are stronger than they thought they were."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can fear be fun?
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COMMENTS (69)
  • genevieveb-6-bar
    10/22/2015 - 08:08 p.m.

    Fear can be fun by stimulating one's senses through an event in which one is not placed in any real danger. In the article's beginning, Margee Kerr states, "'When we know we're not really in any physical danger, we can enjoy the endorphins and the dopamine. That response is similar to being really excited and happy'" (paragraph 7). Since the same chemicals in the brain are being activated through both fear and joy, the brain triggers a similar response, once one comes to terms that they are not in any true danger. One can experience fun through fear because of the emotional responses sent throughout one's body.

    This article intrigued me because I, one who is easily scared by the supernatural, wants to learn more about how to overcome the said fear.

  • seans-2-bar
    10/22/2015 - 10:03 p.m.

    Fear can be fun assuming we realize that we are in no real danger, and then it feels like pleasure. This article was an interesting response on the subject of people's fear.

  • matthewp-6-bar
    10/23/2015 - 12:57 a.m.

    Fear can be fun if we aren't in actual real danger because this lets us enjoy the endorphins and the dopamine.Also fear can be fun if we trigger our flight or fight response which allows to feel like we accomplished something after we made it through a scary experience.This article is interesting to me because it is weird that a lot humans are attracted to being scared.

  • angelad-6-bar
    10/23/2015 - 01:13 a.m.

    Fear can be fun when we know we are in no physical danger, our body releases endorphins and the dopamine the same chemicals that are released when we are excited or happy. I found this article interesting because I didn't know specific things such as startling fasting moving movie affects cause humans to have fear. I found this article surprising because I didn't know that fear caused the fight or flight response in humans.

  • alexandrias-2-bar
    10/23/2015 - 02:26 a.m.

    Fear can be fun because it gives us a sense of fun and excitement if we keep it at a level that were comfortable with. If we make things too scary we might end up being traumatized, and if we aren't very afraid we won't be excited. I found this interesting because it explained to me why we have a thrill when we are scared.

  • TalaB-Iov
    10/25/2015 - 09:14 p.m.

    when you've just faced your fear and you feel confidant
    that you can do it again
    me & BREANA

  • BeyzanurA-Iov
    10/25/2015 - 09:23 p.m.

    fear can be fun at facing it. At first you might be scared of doing something, but once you do the thing that your scared of you might not be scared at much.

  • tonyw-1-ver
    10/26/2015 - 08:47 a.m.

    Scaring people could cause a affect because it could cause someone to have heart attack when he/ she get scared.

  • laneys-1-ols
    10/26/2015 - 12:50 p.m.

    Fear can be fun by getting our adrenaline running and getting us excited.

  • karlees-1-ols
    10/26/2015 - 12:50 p.m.

    fear can be fun, because it gives you that rush of what is gonna happen and if it does or doesn't, how will it effect you.

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